Before They Were Movies: Books
June Book Review
But Seriously, Don’t.
This month’s book review is reflecting the amazing summer of movies that is occurring. Scott has already previewed many of his most anticipated upcoming movies, but for me The Great Gatsby’s latest cinematic debut reminded me about the greatness of the source material that leads to many cinematic attempts.
In fact, there is a clear trend in attempting to turn popular literary works — and especially literary series — into movie blockbusters. The important part of this trend is not the resulting movies, but appreciating what makes the source material so intriguing in the first place – the books themselves.
With that, here are my literary recommendations for books to read before their respective movie actually comes out.
AHOY! POTENTIAL SPOILERS ABOUND!
Much Ado About Nothing
Summer Sonnets instead of Bonnets.
One of Shakespeare’s finest comedies, Much Ado About Nothing is my second favorite Shakespearean comedy (my number one being The Taming of the Shrew). The main plot centers around Claudio and his pursuit of his love Hero, while the evil Don John lurks in the background trying to ruin the young couple’s love.
However, the play’s best story arc involves the secondary couple of Benedict and Beatrice, whose witty and tumultuous interactions give the story its true substance. If you like the Rom-Com “fight first and eventually fall in love” plot line, then you’ll love reading Benedict and Beatrice’s back and forth.
Feel like being a little sophisticated this summer? Read this Shakespearean play and then enjoy the movie later this year.
Pip. Ugh. I would have fought that kid.
I know nothing about the upcoming movie, but I have strong opinions on the book. This is my least favorite Dickens novel that I have ever read. Pip is on my list of top ten most annoying protagonists ever (sounds like an article-in-waiting), and Estella is the literary equivalent of a Kardashian: shallow, rich, and callous towards men.
However, my personal bias aside, Great Expectations is a tremendously impressive work of fiction that deserves to be read at least once, even it is to complain about it for the rest of your life. The themes of the novel are extremely relevant even to this day; socioeconomic discrepancy, social mobility, pedigree, and culture are all issues that the novel discusses as you follow a young, indigent boy who suddenly has the means to better himself and his situation.
Along with A Christmas Carol, Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist, Great Expectations is one of Dickens’ best known works. As much as I dislike the novel, I know I will likely consider the movie a terrible adaptation of the book and somehow end up defending the pages over the screen. Sigh.
Read it. It’s a classic. Afterwards, we can be snobby and complain about the plot, since its literary merits are beyond derision.
If there was a Battle School, tuition would be high.
A friend recommended this book to me last summer when I was locked outside my apartment and had to wait for my roommate for a few hours. As I sat on the porch and read, I realized I had been missing out on a true cult classic. I finished the novel the next day and ended up reading its sequels and even the alternate storylines (Shadow saga).
But Ender’s Game started it all. The premise is deceptively simple, but the themes are hauntingly deep for a futuristic sci-fi fantasy featuring children stuck together in space. The book reminds us that — although small and young — children, too, face moral uncertainties. It paints a picture of disparate power complexes, of being emotionally and intellectually challenged, as well as the awkwardness of trying to fit in when everything in one’s world is based on competitiveness.
Aside from grappling with the moral uncertainty that is destroying another sentient species, Ender, his siblings, and his battle school colleagues allow us to confront questions of rules, compassion, power, intellect, and true victory through the eyes of children chosen to save the world.
Out of all the books on this list, read this one before seeing the movie. The book is incredibly wonderful and complex. It is a thriller for the mind and soul, and as much as I look forward to the movie, I remain skeptical that any film will do such a magnificent novel justice.
Children fighting for our pleasure? This is on TLC, right?
The second installment of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is my preferred of the three books. The first book caught me by surprise with its action and pace, and the third seemed to become mired with the ethics of the society, but the second book balances the powerful predicament that Peta and Katniss are in with the subtle resistance taking place in society. The tension in the novel is well-written, and there is artful play between the teenage Katniss-Gale-Peta love triangle and the overall underpinnings of a suppressed society yearning for resistance.
Additionally, the supporting cast of the second book is perhaps the best in the series. The other victors are strong, likeable, and deeply troubled in different ways, suggesting the blessings of fame are anything but desirable. From District 12, we expand the fictional world to encompass new Districts and peoples, thereby changing the Katniss-centered plot into a discussion on the meaning of freedom.
This is not to say Katniss is unimportant or has become minimalized; on the contrary, as she is at the heart of the societal transformation. Her inner monologues desiring a normal life against the pressures of the more ambitious around her are sincere and genuine. It is her reluctance to accepting power and fame that elevate her past others in the teenage hero echelons.
So, read Catching Fire before seeing the movie. The Hunger Games movie took many liberties to soften and change the first novel, and I suspect the same liberties will be taken with the second. Even though the movie was entertaining, this is one of many series where I am certain the books will be better.
Bilbo > Frodo
I know what you’re thinking. The first Hobbit already came out and I saw it. The book is already ruined.
The first Hobbit movie plot was essentially fifty pages of the actual book. Take the time and read the actual novel before going to the theaters this year. It’s a fraction the length of the Lord of the Rings, but in many ways encompasses the heart of its epic sequel. It’s more light-hearted, features the dwarves, and introduces the world of Middle Earth.
Although I love Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit has two things that is superior to its more famous sequel. The first, The Hobbit has a dragon, Smaug, and dragons are awesome. Secondly, Bilbo Baggins is a far more interesting character than Frodo Baggins. Whereas Frodo was an apprehensive little whiner, Bilbo actively saved himself and continuously chose to put himself in harm’s way for others. He had no stake in his adventure, yet he was confident and courageous in his decisions.
So in short, read The Hobbit this summer. The book is a masterpiece all its own, and you will gain a better appreciation for what you see on the silver screen.
Percy Jackson: the Sea of Monsters & Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Why is a half-god named Percy?
Written by Rick Riordan and Cassandra Clare, respectively. I have not read either of these series but a quick visit to the bookstore quickly confirms that both are immensely popular young adult series. I am highly tempted to read them and probably will by the end of the year.
The Percy Jackson series has something to do with half-god teenagers running around trying to please their mythical god-parent (not the Baptismal kind, mind you) and save the world (daddy issues?). The premise seems good, but the first movie was a critical disappointment and probably turned away many would-be readers of the series.
Gingers saving the world? Cartman would disagree.
As for Mortal Instruments, I have to admit I am intrigued. The trailer for the movie suggests a plot line featuring a young girl caught between two dimensions in the same city. My initial impression is it’s the teenage version of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. If that’s indeed the case, I’m in.
The darkness of the movie trailer, an intriguing teenage female protagonist (more Katniss, less Bella), promise of death and violence, and a serious lack of werewolves and vampires, place this book high on my to-read list.
Just remember: before shelling out the $18 bucks for a ticket, bucket of popcorn, and comically-large soda, spend the money on the movie’s source material and enjoy it in the sun, during a rainy day, or whenever you have a chance this summer.
Ali Hasanali is a contributing writer to Hobbes Lives and is the author of Prythvii: The Forgotten Heirs. He also dabbles in law and can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute without switching the stickers.